United suspends 3 LaGuardia routes, boosts other Florida flights
Despite the pandemic, some domestic routes, especially those to outdoor-friendly destinations, are actually in demand.
Flights to Florida, South Carolina, Utah and Colorado have been some of the most popular for leisure travelers looking for safer, socially distanced adventures. But not every leisure-focused connection is created equal — just take a look at United's latest route suspension.
In August, the Chicago-based carrier announced a route-map shakeup that included 17 new point-to-point flights to Florida aimed at quickly capturing demand as the pandemic has reshaped travel patterns.
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Well, turns out that three of those routes haven't proven to be as lucrative as the carrier hoped. United is temporarily suspending the following flights, per Cirium timetables and confirmed by the carrier.
- New York (LGA) - Fort Myers (RSW)
- New York (LGA) - Tampa (TPA)
- New York (LGA) - West Palm Beach (PBI)
The aforementioned routes will be paused for March due to low demand. Service is scheduled to resume on April 1. However, the routes are slated to end on April 5, so it's possible that these flights are gone for good after February.
In a statement, United offered this take on how it's responded since travel demand sank to a pandemic low in April 2020:
Throughout the pandemic, United has nimbly reshaped its domestic and international schedules by carefully matching capacity with customer demand. The significant impact that the pandemic continues to have on demand for air travel continues and although we have maintained moderate growth each month since the beginning of the pandemic, the spike in COVID-19 cases continues to cause a reduction in bookings.
We have long said recovery will not follow a linear path, however recent positive results in vaccine development and efficacy show an encouraging line of sight to the other side of the pandemic. While it will take time for the vaccine to be widely distributed, United’s confidence is even stronger in the recovery and the trajectory of the rebound in 2021 and beyond.
When United announced the bevy of new LaGuardia flights to multiple Florida cities in August 2020, it was a break from its traditional route-map strategy that funneled most flights through one of the carrier's seven domestic hubs. Many of the routes were scheduled to end in January 2021, but they were extended to early April in anticipation of above-average demand during holiday and spring break periods.
With travelers looking for safer, socially distanced escapes, warm-weather destinations with plenty of outdoor activities are top of mind, especially during the winter.
However, with a slower-than-expected vaccine rollout and another wave of coronavirus cases nationwide, United did not see the same level of demand for three of its new LaGuardia flights. For flyers based in the New York City area, Cirium schedules show that the airline will continue serving Fort Myers, Tampa and West Palm Beach from its Newark (EWR) hub.
Despite the demand slowdown from LaGuardia, Florida is still one of the most popular destinations right now. United plans to operate more than 120 daily flights to 13 destinations in the Sunshine State, including 15 point-to-point routes that bypass hubs.
During the weekend, United added nearly 100% more flights to its Denver (DEN) to Panama City (ECP) routes for the late winter and early spring schedule. In late January, the carrier added 37% more flights from Denver to four other Florida cities between March and May 2021.
More: United Airlines boosts Denver hub in 4-route Florida expansion
The number of flights from Chicago (ORD) to both Panama City and Destin-Fort Walton Beach (VPS) saw a dramatic 134% increase in the latest schedule update, going from 79 to 185 total frequencies through the end of 2021, per Cirium schedules.
The carrier also boosted another popular destination, Key West, in its latest timetable adjustment. United plans to operate 4,340 more Key West flights in March 2021 compared to March 2019, thanks to recent boosts on routes to Chicago, Newark and Washington/Dulles.
Though Florida is a bright spot, the carrier is still down significantly year-over-year. According to United, "we expect to fly 49% of our overall schedule compared to March of 2019. Capacity for the month of March is similar to February of 2021."
Other airlines: Delta charges into leisure markets with latest route shakeup
United will face some significant competition for its share of Florida-bound flyers. In recent weeks, American Airlines has also been doubling down on warm-weather flights.
On Friday, American announced an eight-route expansion from its Philadelphia hub, with added flights to Daytona Beach and Key West. Earlier in January, the Fort Worth-based carrier unveiled a slew of leisure routes to other Florida destinations, including Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Panama City and Sarasota/Bradenton.